Although it may not sound like a hill of beans to many, an announcement today of an agreement between Sky and BT represents a major breakthrough for British consumers.
BT will now sell Sky’s NOW TV on its broadband based platform – giving its subscribers a simple way to get key sports and major TV series – but more significantly will wholesale its sports channels to Sky.
That breaks down one of the most significant barriers to audiences wanting to access Premier League matches the major European cups, as well as Ashes cricket and top club rugby.
The competition between BT and Sky has for many, particularly sports fans, represented a shift away from convenience into an unhappy schism.
Sky’s virtual monopoly of elite football through the Premier League era meant its platform became a bastion of excellence for sports fans, not least because of huge deals around cricket, rugby and tennis.
And although most would agree that a monopoly is no good thing for anyone, BT’s arrival to break down that issue by sealing a deal for a swathe of English football and, more importantly, blockbusting deals for the major European cups, left many disgruntled fans stuck on one platform and resistant to the idea of forking over excessive amounts of cash for packages across another.
That issue was exacerbated by the two platforms attitude to each other – BT would not wholesale its channels to Sky which meant customers had to go to them to add additional channels (inconvenient and presumably a huge barrier to many).
Likewise, getting Sky’s key offerings in entertainment and sport on the BT platform was tricky.
The deal announced just ahead of Christmas is therefore hugely significant, not least because it represents a thawing between the two.
Although data is thin on the ground, BT’s huge outlay on football and cricket rights means that making it hard for a huge audience on Sky to buy its offerings was unsustainable, and some would argue a classic example of cutting its nose off to spite its face.
Equally, Sky’s NOW TV moving onto BT Sport seems to finally seal an acceptance that BT is a significant platform and audience.
Thankfully, both of these behemoths seem to accept that the race to build platforms should not come at the expense of convenience of those that currently opt for the other.
Although the agreement has not brought any detail on the costs of the offerings, buying a football package with Sky might well now mean paying a premium rather than close to double (especially if you wanted 4K).
For BT customers, NOW TV access means a more straightforward way to get access to hit series such as Game of Thrones and Westworld.
“This is an important day for BT and for our customers, who will be able to enjoy a whole range of Sky’s sport and entertainment programming on their BT TV boxes, said Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT.
“This is the next logical step for our TV and content strategy. Having built up an outstanding portfolio of exclusive sports rights and a loyal base of customers, we feel that now is the right time to broaden the ways in which we distribute BT Sport.”
Logical step is one way to put it, but after a few years of playing hardball in order to try to build BT as a platform, BT’s softening stance around its hero content is a major boon for us viewers.
For the first time in a few years we no longer have to put up with a deliberately inconvenient (and ludicrously expensive) process just to watch what we want.